10 of the Best Edward Thomas Poems

Edward Thomas was born in Lambeth, Surrey, England in March of 1878. He volunteered to be sent to France during WWI and died in 1917 in Arras, France. He wrote on a variety of topics but is remembered for his skillful depiction of the mindset of those who fought in and lived through the First World War. Thomas’s life and literary works are commemorated in Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey in London. 

10 of the Best Edward Thomas Poems

 

The Sign-Post

In ‘The Sign-Post’ the Thomas uses the first-person perspective to discuss time and Heaven. The poem starts with a description of an image-rich scene on top of a hill beside a signpost. The speaker spends time thinking about what’s ahead of him and where he should go/what he should do next. The poem then transitions into a scene narrator who discusses the inescapable process of aging and one’s eventual entry into heaven.

 

May the Twenty-third

‘May the Twenty-third,’ one of Thomas’ best-known poems describes a perfect day, a naturally beautiful day that is beyond compare. This particular “may” is the best he’s ever had. Thomas uses a thunderstorm as an image of perseverance and strength and then introduces Jack. This man walks into the scene, wandering seemingly pointlessly. He’s carrying cowslip flowers and cresses which he gives to the speaker. Jack speaks briefly with the narrator and then goes on his way. 

 

The Chalk Pit

In this mysterious and evocative poem, the speaker gives a memorable depiction of an abandoned chalk-pit. The speaker describes the “fullness” of life that he senses there but when he looks around there’s nothing really to be seen. IT’s clear that the place has been abandoned for a century. But, nevertheless, it still seems as though there is something there, something that “just” ended. The speaker and his companion try to fill in details, imagined and real and the poem ends with an emphasis on the two speakers as the only living things there. 

 

As the Team’s Head Brass

As the Team’s Head Brass’ is a narrative poem that was written in 1916. It focuses on the theme of war through a discussion between a plowman and the speaker. The two spend time thinking and talking about war and explore how deeply the war (WWI) has penetrated into everyone’s lives. This poem is well-loved and often assigned to students of English literature.

 

Haymaking

‘Haymaking’ is a beautiful pastoral poem and another of Thomas’ best-known works. It describes a landscape and its laborers who are impacted in different ways by the passage of time. The imagery is tranquil and pristine as if it was just created by God. The speaker spends time discussing the water mill and the birds that he hears singing all throughout the woods. Thomas’ speaker notes how eternal the scene feels, as though the haymakers have been there forever along with the natural imagery around them. 

 

Rain

In ‘Rain’ Thomas focuses on death. His speaker contemplates the future within the trenches of World War I. He describes the pounding rain on the roof of a “bleak hut” that he’s sheltering in. He’s alone in a trench somewhere during the First World War. There, he has nothing to do but think about his own mortality and what’s coming for him any minute. The rain, in the end, is something pleasant. It washes the speaker clean, cleaner than he’s been in a long time. In the end, he takes comfort in the fact that he can depend on the rain as something imperfect and constant. 

 

Beauty

In ‘Beauty’ Thomas’ speaker asserts his definition of what beauty is and how he experiences it. He sees his life as a delicate balance and he knows that beauty plays an important part in it. When things are without beauty, they’re meaningless to him. It’s in the natural world that he’s able to completely rid himself of annoyances and feel at peace.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t always get to spend his time there. He is often Tired, angry and ill at ease” with himself and his life. 

 

The New Year

In this poem, Thomas’ speaker describes a strange encounter between two men in a forest on a morning at the beginning of the year. First, there was one man, a “tripod man” who was leaning over a rake and working on the newly fallen leaves. The poem is filled with unanswered questions that make the entire scene even stranger. Thomas concludes the poem without his speaker coming to any conclusions about what he just experienced. 

 

Lights Out

This is a haunting poem that uses an extended metaphor to compare the world of sleep to that of death. Throughout, Thomas takes the reader into a world that depicts sleep as an image for death. He describes it as a dark forest one must enter into when their path terminates. There is nothing anyone can do to stay away from the forest. Men and women have tried throughout the ages to avoid it but its impossible. 

 

Aspens

In ‘Aspens’ Thomas focuses on the theme of grief and what role poetry has to play in the preservation of memory. He describes the sounds of the aspen trees in the first lines, they talk amongst themselves just as the poets do. They share stories that live at a crossroads. It is due to their central position that they’re able to bring forward the ghosts of the past and express the emotions of an age. Thomas concludes the poem by recognizing the fact that as a poet he will not always be listened to.

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